Modern Warfare (Burnham)

Modern Warfare
by Frederick Russell Burnham

Published in: Detroit Free Press, p, C3 (January 6, 1901). The editor starts with the following: FREDERICK R. BURNHAM, the American scout who has been made a major in the British Army in recognition of his valuable services in South Africa, has written a paper on modern warfare, in which he expresses the conviction that the modern gun brings us back to first principles in warfare and puts a premium on Individuality. Men who are under accurate fire at long range from a concealed enemy have to advance the best way they can, each man for himself, and spread over so much ground that no officer can keep an eye on the whole of them.

The day when men are moved in battle like machines seems to have gone by, and instead of producing machines any more we have got to train the individual soldier. One thousand men trained to think for themselves and to shoot straight can whip 10,000 drilled in the old-fashioned way. It is the greatest mistake to think that victory depends on numbers.

This new individuality and mobility will bring back the scout, who had almost died out. Many good scouts are being produced by the war with the Boers, and some excellent scouting is being done by the American army in the Philippines. It seems to me that the ideal training for a soldier in the future will be that which makes every man more or less a scout, taught to use common sense and all five of his other senses, and, above all, to become a good rifle shot, for, all due respect to the artillery, it is the man with rifle who counts in battle. It is surely a mistake to give a man three year' drill and only three months at the rifle butts and then call him a soldier, when he could meet modern conditions far better with three years of rifle and three months' of drill. I dread to see savages become expert with the rifle while the average white boy does not know one end of a gun from the other. To shoot, properly with a rifle one must be trained to it from his youth up.

The scout nowadays must have many of the faculties that Daniel Boone had and a good military training in addition. Modern guns and modern ranges have changed the whole scope of his work. One reason why the trained scout will be in greater demand in the future is that nights are going to count for as much as, and perhaps more than, days in the warfare of the future. The general who moves in the night must be absolutely sure of himself and of his destination, and that is where scouting will count. We estimate in a night march a body of men normally makes half the progress it would in the daytime; but with training in the art of stealing forward on the ball of the foot, night marching should become much more rapid and sure.

It seems to me that Baden-Powell is the type of soldier to whom the future belongs -- the man who can do the thing the enemy doesn't expect. If you do what the enemy expects of you, naturally he is prepared for you.

We can get important lessons in scouting from the animals. The horse is especially worth watching. Many times, when out on the plains alone with my horse, I have laid down and gone to sleep in perfect security, while the horse grazed close at hand. However exhausted I have be, I would wake up instantly if the animal stopped grazing. And it would be instructive to watch him then. You could tell by the way he held his head that the was saying to himself, "Didn't I hear something a little unusual then?" He would cock one ear back and listen behind him, and then go on grazing if convinced that everything was all right. But sometimes, when, so far as the human ear can tell, there is no sound, the horse holds his head high, with his ears pointed steadily in some particular direction, then it is time to make investigations. There is as great a difference in horses, of course, as there is in men, and it behooves a scout to travel with an intelligent, quickwitted horse and to study him thoroughly, especially the language of his ears.

If the leopard were not such an irresponsible beast he would make a wonderful scout; but you can't depend on his senses every time. A friend of mine has a tame leopard which I watched with interest. He could hear a wagon approaching on the veldt long before even a dog could hear it -- and a dog can hear a mile and a half -- and he could distinguish his master's step a distance of 100 yards.

It has often struck me that it would be well worth while to experiment with the dog as a scout. He has many notable qualifications for the place already, but you cannot always depend on him to keep still at a time when one bark or growl might cost you your life.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).